Someday, go to Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market and try to get a glimpse of the tuna auction. Unfortunately one can't really get in anymore—tourists trying to climb on tuna like Trigger and generally disrupting business put an end to that. Even if you could, you wouldn't know what was going on. There are screams, shouts, hand gestures, hat adjustments, buyers and sellers striking deals in a sophisticated and nuanced language all their own. Bluefin tuna are at the center of all activity, some fetching hundreds of dollars per pound. Some have sold for more than $100,000.
Outside the garage-like doors that separate the auction from the rest of Tsukiji are throngs of people hoping to see the action. I have stood outside those doors and felt that same charge. I have been chased from the area by market security and come back to be chased again. It is exciting, and for a fish enthusiast like me it is nearly irresistible. But my mind has now changed after I read a New York Times Magazine article, "Tuna's End," written by Paul Greenberg, author of the soon to be released Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food.
Mr. Greenberg lays out a compelling set of arguments in the giant bluefin's defense. He is clearly a man who holds this fish dear in his heart. Near the close of his article, he puts us on the deck of the Sensation, a sport fishing vessel from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. He is fishing with the Tag-A-Giant Foundation, a non-profit that studies the migration of bluefins. Greenberg wrote these words after his experience catching, tagging, and releasing his first bluefin:
For the first time in my life I felt tuna flesh for what it was: a living, perfect expression of a miraculous adaptation. An adaptation that allows bluefin to cross-oceans at the speed of a battleship. An adaptation that should be savored in its own right as the most miraculous engine of a most miraculous animal, not as food.
I stopped serving bluefin about five years ago. In the face of so much irrefutable science calling attention to its disappearance, how could I not? Bluefin is easy to covet for a chef. But as a chef who has coveted it myself, I think it is time we all said enough is enough.
Bluefin tuna is not a staple. There is no one nation or group of people who will starve if bluefin are no longer commercially harvested. Bigeye and yellowfin—tuna species that mature faster and reproduce more readily—are fine substitutes for those who need to eat red-fleshed fish. Bluefin, in contrast, is a luxury. I would hope that at some point we afford the bluefin the same sort of respect we offer animals like pandas and mountain gorillas. We have pushed those species to the point of extinction, and now we are helping them come back.